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Hyman: Racial voting patterns means putative also-rans might live to run again?

Frank_hyman Much of the attention on this year's Council race has been focused on electoral challenge newcomers Donald Hughes and Pastor Sylvester Williams, who certainly have made an otherwise-quiet municipal election interesting.

Less has been heard of conservative or libertarian-leaning candidates like John Tarantino or Matt Drew. Long shots? Longtime Durham political watcher (and former Council member) Frank Hyman doesn't think so, and he shares why in this guest column, provided for your pleasure here on this primary election day.

Frank's never one to be afraid to stake out a controversial position, and he doesn't disappoint here -- and he has past election outcomes to back it up.

Incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden was bested by Donald Hughes for the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People’s endorsement. And incumbent Howard Clement nearly lost that endorsement to Pastor Sylvester Williams. 

Because of that, there’s been a lot of attention focused on Williams and Hughes, and I’ll bet a lot of readers anticipate seeing both of them finishing in the top two with the incumbents. 

However, Durham's election history indicates that one or both of the surviving challengers may be John Tarantino (in Cole-McFadden’s ward) and/or Matt Drew (in Clement’s.)


Clement will capture a large majority of the black vote given his history and the Committee's endorsement.  Williams will likely garner votes in the high 3 figures or low 4 figures for a likely third place finish. 

Cole-McFadden, will still pull about half of the black vote given her history in this town. And given that many black voters blew off the Committee's endorsement of Hughes’ mother—Jackie Wagstaff--the last time she ran for school board, I think we'll see a similar dynamic in this race. Hughes will break into 4 figures certainly, giving him no more than a 50/50 chance of surviving.  But I think there’s good reason to think he’ll finish a close 3rd place.


So why would either Tarantino and Drew, who have very limited civic experience and modest campaigns, come in 2nd and survive the primary?

A careful look at past election precinct tallies shows that when the Friends of Durham endorse a black candidate, about 40-60 % of the voters who would normally follow their lead, look for a white face to vote for. This has been a consistent pattern since the Friends jelled as an organization in the early 90’s. 

For those new to the Bull City, the Friends brands itself as a “moderate-to-conservative” political group. In Durham that means they generally have influence with Republicans, Libertarians, conservative and some moderate Democrats. They restrict their endorsements to local races, perhaps to avoid internal division between Republicans and Democrats.

My understanding from conversations with leaders is that membership is broadly considered as anyone who has ever donated to the organization. Unfortunately, membership is not enough to allow you a vote at an endorsement meeting. To do that, you have to wrangle a seat on their steering committee, composed of 40-50 members. It used to be an all white committee, but they have done a good job of involving some number of African-Americans over the last decade.

A close look at overwhelmingly white precincts in city, school board and county races, shows that on occasions when the Friends endorses a black candidate—even a Republican—that candidate’s precinct tally drops by about half when compared to their white “slate-mates,” when voters have the option of voting for another white candidate, even when that candidate is more progressive. 

A good example from the ’97 election would be Floyd McKissick’s endorsement by the Friends, which garnered him only about 40% of the votes in overwhelmingly white precincts outside the city center as compared to his slate-mates. Those missing votes ended up in white candidate Pam Blythe’s column, even though her only endorsement was from the progressive People’s Alliance (PA) and her stands on some issues were to the left of McKissick’s. 

Interestingly, both McKissick and Blythe scored well enough to survive the general election. Blythe’s extra votes, when combined with a strong PA turnout, gave her enough votes to barely edge out the FoD’s lead candidate in that at-large race—John Best, Jr. 

The African-American candidate who does best, when endorsed by the FoD and running against white candidates, is Howard Clement, who used to be a Republican through the 80’s and 90’s. He switched to unaffiliated during the recent Bush years. In overwhelmingly white precincts outside the city center, Clement has been able to garner about 60% as many votes as his white slate-mates--when those voters have the option of voting for a white candidate. 

I wouldn’t say racism accounts for all those votes. But having grown up in the working class south and knowing how much racism has gone quietly covert since the 60’s,  I’d be surprised if racism doesn’t account for the majority of these votes. 

So I won’t be surprised if about half of the Friends of Durham voters will see that the group they pay attention to -- FoD -- has endorsed black candidates and then they will scan the ballot for a white face. And they will find it in John Tarantino, a Republican running against Cole-McFadden and Matt Drew, a Libertarian running against Clement.

Not that either challenger is a racist, or that everyone voting for them is a racist, but they will be unintentional beneficiaries of an informal coalition of racists, Libertarians and Republicans who will disregard the FoD endorsement and perhaps lift one or both of them into the November election.

Comments

Doug Roach

"...unintentional beneficiaries of an informal coalition of racists, Libertarians and Republicans who will disregard the FoD endorsement and perhaps lift one or both of them into the November election."

The pernicious link to a kindred breeding is a strong one to overcome when that heritage also includes ethnic chauvinism learned as a child. This is true of ALL cultures, not just caucasian.

The politics of race will end, eventually. It may be many more years in coming but someday humans - even Durhamites - will evolve beyond ethnicity as a qualifier for leadership and instead focus on the principles and policies of candidates.

Nathaniel H. Goetz

"The politics of race will end, eventually. It may be many more years in coming but someday humans - even Durhamites - will evolve beyond ethnicity as a qualifier for leadership and instead focus on the principles and policies of candidates."

Well said, Doug.

Tar Heelz

Did the Chamber of Commerce and CVB give any consideration to "Durham: City of Race Politics"? I'm not sure City of Medicine has the same above-the-fold spark.

Erik Landfried

Thanks Frank - an interesting read as always. Perhaps there is not enough data to answer this question, but can you point to any tangible improvement in the amount of racism that affects these vote tallies?

To put it more plainly, is there is any evidence that the politics of race are coming to an end?

Erik Landfried

Wow, the first paragraph I just wrote makes no sense. I'd ask that you only refer to the second paragraph.

Chuckde424

For those who want to act as though racism is the issue in Durham, its always a matter of compared to what. In our neighboring Wake county, the school board races include an entire slate of candidates running on a blatantly racist platform -- they want to stop worrying about diversity in their public school student assignemtns or "stop bringing the black folks to "our" neighborhood schools. Now compared to that, a few precincts where only 40-60% of the white folks are unwilling to support the suggestions of their "conservative" political group, if Frank is right, largely because of their own even more racist orietiation . . . well that just pales by comparison to Wake's election??? I will concede that it does actually exit here but in smaller pockets than it does generarlly in America or this state.

Thanks Frank for stating facts that, if spoken by a black person, would be dismissed as just racist.

Frank Hyman

@ Eric

"To put it more plainly, is there is any evidence that the politics of race are coming to an end?"

My sense has been that a lot of the racism has been underground through the 70's, 80's and 90's. And yes a lot of the old racists died (Jesse Helms for one), but they managed to raise a new generation of racists with a more subtle approach--the Wake Co. anti-diversity crowd is a good example. They all look like Baby Boomers to me.

Talk radio in the 90's gave the racists a ghetto in which to gather and fester and the recent bad decision to allow anonymous comments on blogs and newspaper sites (whether MSM or alternative) has allowed them to float their racist commentary without the fear of retribution that had kept them mostly underground at the end of the last century.

Much as some would like to deny it, humans are primates and "monkey see, monkey do" guides a lot of the behavior of many humans for good or ill.

The more racists can get away with marketing their crazy talk with impunity (think the Herald Sun comments section) the more others get comfortable with coming "out" as racists. (think Joe Wilson).

To summarize, I think the US is going post-racial about the same we we are going post-cigarette smoking. Have you noticed how many people in their 20's, who appear to be college educated, are smoking these days? I thought we were winning that one and smoking was getting down to just being a habit of the least educated and most depressed members of our society. But as a minority activity it offers a bit of a rebellious image.

I think modern, subtle racism (and by "subtle", I mean that Middle America and MSM and people lacking in compassion don't recognize it.) and even open racism now has cache of rebelliousness even for young people.

We also should recognize that there is a spectrum of racism--KKK on one end, Joe and Jesse somewhere in the middle, the Wake Co. folks, in their indifference are somewhere on the far end.

The only answer I have is to recognize that this is a struggle we'll have with us for the rest of our lives in varying degrees--humans tend to be xenophobic and that gets worse under economic stress.

Prepare for the long haul and don't burn out.

Frank Hyman (and sign your stinking names you cowards) :-)

Erik Landfried

@Frank

Thanks for your thoughtful response.

I was very unclear about what I was asking however. I am wondering if there was anything in your DATA to state which way "politics of race" are trending in Durham, if they are at all. In other words, is there anything in the voting record that shows that members of mostly-white PACs (PA and FoD) are more or less likely NOW to vote for a black candidate or that members of the Durham Committee are more or less likely NOW to vote for a white candidate, particularly if those candidates have been endorsed by said PAC.

I hope that is clearer.

Erik

P.S. While I support your campaign to have folks post comments with their real name, it would be nice if you could spell their name correctly when they do :)

Nathaniel H. Goetz

Well said, Frank. Thank you for this.

Mary Edgewater

Frank,

Your chicken's have flown the coop again! Obviously, you have plenty of interesting ideas, but your personal style (as evidenced in Durham political circles) leaves much to be desired. In fact, I bet if you posted anonymously your IDEAS would get more attention because YOU would be taken out of it.

Mary Edgewater, an "old friend" of Frank's

Page

Regarding Wake county, before we pat ourselves too hard on the back, we need to recall that, when the city and county schools merged, there was no effort to balance schools racially, except for a few magnetized inner city elementary schools. The school board allowed an easy transfer policy, so that students assigned to, for example, Hillside could get out with little effort. Check the make up Hillside today. White students are a minority system wide now and no one dares adhere to strict assignment guidelines to disperse them proportionately across the schools. Can't use race anyway anymore, but we are not doing it by SES and achievement either. The present Wake school board has my vote of gratitude for hanging in for so long.

TrinityRez

"The African-American candidate who does best, when endorsed by the FoD and running against white candidates, is Howard Clement, who used to be a Republican through the 80’s and 90’s. He switched to unaffiliated during the recent Bush years. In overwhelmingly white precincts outside the city center, Clement has been able to garner about 60% as many votes as his white slate-mates--when those voters have the option of voting for a white candidate."

Do all the racist forget their hatred when Clement runs?

I would wager that what little bit of white racism that goes into the voting booth is exponentially out weighed by the black racism that definitely helps blacks candidates in Durham. But black racism exhibited by Cole-Mcfadden in her fire whitey hire black episode is to be overlooked in Durham.

I have no problem calling out racism where it exist. However, what gets old is the continuation of dwelling on white racism while never discussing black racism.

Racism is not monopolized by one segment of the population.

Will

@ Mary Edgewater

I don't know you or Frank but I dare say that YOUR comment would probably be taken much more seriously if you left the YOU and whatever "old friend" baggage you're no-so-subtly referring to, out of it

Chuckde424

Let me suggest that this conversation might be closer to reality if, rather than arguing about "black racism" or "white racism," we step back to understand that the phenomon in American society that we all deal with is really the notion of "white surpremacy." As a friend of mine and scholar that I know makes clear, "white surpremacy" is like the water we all live in and breath.

It's not about blaming this group or that group for their solidarity or common view of the world. Its about understanding that our society has been strutured for centruries on this fundamental premise. Black folks are not perfect but they didn't structure our society around race. White folks today didn't do it either. Long before any of us got here, that aspect of our society was cast in stone. It is for us to try to understand it and deal with it.

I think Frank's analysis helps us to see something. Now how will we deal with it. Are we going to ignore it, try to deny it, engage in ad hominem debate, talk about things that happend in the school system almost 2 decades ago or are we going to recognize the facts in the mirror and "make that change."

Andy S

Interesting read. I don't have years of experience dealing with Durham politics so much of this is new to me.
However, in regards to the Wake county election the only thing I would like to mention is that not voting FOR a diversity-based schooling policy is not inherently racist or prejudiced. I could understand if I was a parent in that system, I wouldn't want my child re-assigned to multiple schools in a short period of time based on an administrator's arbitrary idea of diversity.
As someone else pointed out, a white person can't play the diversity card when they find themselves a minority in a school system. Focusing on diversity above the MANY other challenges facing our schools reeks of out-of-touch bureacracy (and has been rightfully rejected by Wake voters according to this morning's news).

Frank Hyman

@ Erik

"P.S. While I support your campaign to have folks post comments with their real name, it would be nice if you could spell their name correctly when they do :) "

OOps. My bad.

Phrank Hyman

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